Flight time: 0.9 hours
Total flight time to date: 1.9 hours
September 9, 2011
It’s a pretty cloudy Friday afternoon and the rains look like they’ll be moving in soon, but I’m hopeful that I’ll get at least a little flight time in today. I arrive at Air Associates at 1500 and work my way to Austin’s office where we’ll hold our pre-flight briefing and talk about what maneuvers we’ll be working on today: maintaining a constant altitude and airspeed in both straight and level flight and in turns, getting into landing configuration, slow flight, and power-off stalls. Should be fun!
The briefing lasts about 35-40 minutes and then I head outside to take care of my pre-flight inspection. I’ll be flying in the 58-Yankee today so I collect the key to the plane from the front desk and then check the “squawk sheet” to see if there are any outstanding issues with the plane that need to be addressed before we fly. Basically, if there were any problems with the plane on a previous flight, the pilot would note this on the squawk sheet so the next pilot won’t get hit with any surprises. Looks like there is a frayed right grounding wire noted on the right elevator. Shouldn’t be anything to delay the flight so that’s good, but I’ll make sure to check it out and see how bad it really is. I get out to the plane and check the Hobbs and tach, flip on the master switch, check the fuel, lower the flaps, and check all of the external lights. Looks good! On to the external inspection.
I try to look at everything as methodically as possible, moving from the left door back to the empennage and then around to the other side. I check out the frayed grounding wire and it doesn’t look too bad, but it’ll have to be changed pretty soon. I finish up the inspection, I mean I think I’m finished, when Austin comes out and notes a little bit of oil residue on the cowling. Crap…I didn’t notice that. Double crap, I didn’t check the oil yet either. We pop the access door and pull out the dipstick and sure enough, we’re about 1 quart low and we have to call maintenance out to bring us some before we can go up. Lesson 1 learned. No matter how thorough I think I am, there’s probably something I’ve forgotten to check. I make a mental note that I’ll need to double my efforts and increase my focus. I can guarantee you this though, the oil will never go unchecked on any airplane I ever fly again! Feel like a fool on my second flight? Check.
The oil is added to the plane and now it’s starting to rain. Looks like this may be somewhat of a short flight… We climb on board and run through the start sequence, get clearance from the ground to taxi and move out next to the end of runway 36 to do our engine run-up and systems checks. Everything is in the green so its time to call the tower and get clearance to take off with a southwest departure out to the practice zone. I move out to the centerline of the runway and add power. I do alright with managing the right rudder, but it feels like as soon as we take off we catch a gust of wind and start to drift a bit. I’m trying to keep right rudder into it since we’re climbing at full power and the plane is still wanting to yaw to the left, but it’s kind of tough to keep the plane at the right attitude to maintain our ideal climb speed of 74 kts. With the engine at full throttle, the nose keeps wanting to pitch up so I push the yoke forward, but that causes us to nose over and pick up speed. Ease the yoke back a bit to raise the nose and get us back to 74 kts and all of a sudden we’re pitched up at 20 degrees and the speed drops to 65 kts. Lesson 2 learned here: Small control inputs can have a larger than anticipated effect. This info gets mentally catalogued into the “developing the ‘feel’ file”. I’ll have to pull that back out on my next takeoff.
We get squared away and head out to the practice area which over some open farmland a few miles to the south of the airport. On the way there, Austin teaches me about keeping the plane on a straight and level heading while maintaining a constant altitude. Pitch, power, trim. I’ll be hearing this a lot in the future I’m sure.
Step 1: Pitch. Once I hit my cruising altitude, I adjust the pitch of the airplane to straight and level. At this point, I’m still having to hold some significant forward pressure on the yoke to keep us at the same altitude so I move on to…
Step 2: Power. Reduce the power to cruise setting. This actually takes a decent amount of pressure off of the yoke and I don’t have to push as hard to keep us level, but I do still have some input and the goal is to get the plane neutral with as little input from me as possible.
Step 3: Trim. By moving the trim wheel forward I adjust the small trim tab on the elevator which disrupts the airflow. The end result is that I can high-five myself and the plane will stay straight and level even though I don’t have any hands on the controls because I’m too busy high fiving myself.
Anyway, back to the cruise out to the practice area. It’s starting to rain a bit harder but the view is unbeatable. We’re flying over emerald green fields, the sky is a deep shade of steel blue, and I can see about 6 distinct rain showers happening all around me. I really wish I had my camera with me, but I didn’t so I’ll just have to rely on the mental snapshot… Austin says we should fly a simulated traffic pattern and get configured for a simulated landing. We do two 90-degree turns to make sure there’s no “hidden” traffic in the area and then we pick out a rectangular section of farmland to practice flying the downwind, base, and final approach portion of the pattern. After a “landing” at about 1,000 feet above ground level, I do a right-hand and a left-hand 360 to practice keeping constant speed and altitude. Winds are starting to pick up a bit so we have to hustle through the rest of the lesson and Austin takes over to demonstrate a power-off stall and then its back to Johnson County Executive for our post-flight debrief.
It was a fun flight, but I realize the whole “feel” of the airplane is something that’ll have to come with time and I can’t expect to just get it right away. It’s kind of like riding a bike for the first time. At first things are shaky and you’re wobbling all over the place, but before you know it things are smooth and you can’t believe there was a time where you were less coordinated. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later, I really like running up the learning curve instead of flattening it out and making it take forever.
I finish off the day with a weird mix of excitement, depression, and excitement again. Excitement because I get to go to the Fort Leonard Wood Cannon Range to watch A-10s tearing the place up the next day, depression because I’m going to be leaving on vacation for 2 weeks and won’t be able to fly during that time, and excitement again because I get to go on vacation for 2 weeks!
Next lesson: Power on stalls, HELL checks, and spin recovery